You Asked, We Answered
Does a brain get hijacked by being an addict or alcoholic?
In a word…NO. Brains change constantly. Any learned behavior or habit will change a brain. This is fact. But a brain that has adapted to drug or alcohol use does not “force” a person to continue to use – which is what the “hijacked brain” term implicates. The motivation to continue one’s drug or alcohol use is caused by the individual’s beliefs which center in their mind – not their changed brain. This important distinction is explained in detail throughout The Freedom Model for Addictions:
“For decades, recovery ideology has centered on the idea that the brains of “addicts” are “hardwired” to make them crave substances and their free will has been “hijacked by drugs” so that they have no control over their intake of substances. This is a fixed mindset view if ever there was one. Recovery proponents present an incomplete case for this view, which includes a bunch of neuroscience jargon and colorful pictures of brain scans of addicts. Without using any logic to get there, they simply assert their faulty conclusions, confident that everyone will just believe them without question. The problem is it’s all very easy to believe, in part, because people think they don’t have the intelligence or knowledge to make sense of such things and that the addiction researchers must know what they’re talking about. But the fact is, in this case, the experts are wrong. While they have found evidence that the brain changes as people repeatedly use substances, researchers haven’t found anything that indicates that those brain changes compel further substance use. To the contrary, they’ve found that people freely quit or reduce their substance use despite having “hijacked brains” and their brains begin adapting yet again to follow their new habits. All this changing that goes on is perfectly normal. After just slightly more than a year of abstinence, the brain scans look nearly identical to the brains of people who’ve never been addicted. In fact, based on these findings, increasing numbers of neuroscientists are now coming out against this brain disease view of addiction.
There is nothing in the available scientific evidence that indicates that addicts are unable to stop using substances because of neuroadaptation. And in fact, there is nothing to suggest that the brain changes that result from repetitious substance use are abnormal or some sort of malfunction of the brain. This is important. All repetitious activities change the brain. Research has shown that activities such as learning to play a musical instrument, driving a taxi in London, learning to juggle, and learning to walk and talk, to name but a few, all change the brain. When the brains of people who do these things are compared to the brains of people who don’t do these things, significant differences can be found. However, we don’t say people are “hardwired to drive a taxi,” nor do we assume that when someone sits down to play a song on the piano that his “free will has been hijacked by pianos.” These are routine neuroplastic changes to the brain, a natural way that it adapts to make it easier for people to repeat any habitual behavior. Habits are easy to break, and new habits are easy to make when you find good enough reason to do so.”